On Sunday I attended the first women’s only BJJ seminar in Britain at the Roger Gracie Academy (Mill Hill). The seminar was organised by Pippa Granger and led by brown belt Carmen Janke. It was a fantastic day of training and rolling with 20 tough chicas.
The seminar ran for several hours on Sunday afternoon and attracted a healthy turnout of women from all around southern England and as far afield as Wales. There was a great atmosphere as whites, blues and a purple from all different clubs came together for a day of training. For many of us, this represented a rare opportunity to roll with people of similar size and strength as many of us train mainly with heavier men. The interest the event attracted and the healthy participation spoke volumes in terms of the appetite in British women’s BJJ for female-only events, as we are a distributed group and usually only meet at competition.
The seminar began with a lengthy warm-up of line drills. These could be pretty challenging as regards coordination and included individual and partner drills. They were aimed at isolating core movements including, serendipitously, two I’ve been working myself: backward rolls to neutralise an opponent’s stack and pass and shoulder walking to make space to get the triangle position as an opponent tries to stack and pass.
We moved on to drill techniques from the closed, open and half guards. These included a variation of the X-choke from guard and old school sweep from half guard that are slightly different from those I’ve been taught; going to have a play with them this week. I particularly liked a sweep from the butterfly guard which is similar to one I’ve had some success with (on opponent’s closer to my size for the time being) and will also be looking to integrate that into sparring as and when this week.
While the drills and the few rounds of sparring we got in at the end were excellent fun, I found hearing about Carmen’s experience in BJJ most helpful. Carmen, like me, is a lightweight, and it was interesting to get her perspective on how she’s developed her game and what she’s found works best for her as a smaller person. It gave me confidence that she’s taken a path of ‘position, control, submission’. This mirrors my own (evolving) experience as I find I’m still very much at the stage of trying to get the position and maintain control; as a smaller practitioner my game is largely defensive and is based around solidifying these two aspects before moving to offence (and more often than not, just ‘closing up shop’ – what the guys call the ‘tortoise’ – and keeping everything tight while I get crushed on the bottom and patiently look for an opportunity to improve my position while not being submitted). For Carmen this meant she didn’t really start an offensive game until purple belt and, indeed, I understand that Coach’s plan for me is to work on building a tough(er) defence as a blue, before I start dismantling opponents with offence as a purple.
Carmen also discussed her intuitive approach to rolling and her practice of ‘listening’ to her opponent’s body. So, for instance, if she finds herself in a tight spot such as her posture broken down in guard, she’ll try to relax and feel what her opponent is attempting to do, in order to frustrate the opponent’s game while looking to improve her position. While discussing this point she made the important, to my mind, observation that these approaches may be most effective is one is ‘prepared to lose’. I mentioned in a previous post the importance of training without fear of losing so that it is possible to try and to learn new things, a notion that seems to reverberate among many seasoned martial artists and certainly among the much more experienced BJJ practitioners, such as Coach, Marc Walder and Carmen, that I’ve had the pleasure of training with.
Finally, it was a real treat to train with this exceptional group of women without the pressures of competition. There was a very friendly atmosphere and it has certainly ignited a desire for more women’s training events. For my part, I’m working on arranging a training day at Dartford BJJ, which Coach has generously offered free of charge for gatherings; other women from the seminar have also already mentioned hosting meet ups at their clubs. I feel really overwhelmed to be part of a talented group of women who, while fierce and competitive, are simultaneously supportive and positive and want to do what they can to enhance women’s BJJ.
12 May 2009 @ 3:20 pm
My gym has women’s only classes two times / week but they are so sparsely attended. Occasionally we will get a woman or two who will show up at the regular class, though. I’ve only ever rolled with a woman twice and both times it has been an uncomfortable experience for me. I’m an incredibly large guy. 6’4″ 230lbs. So getting side control on a girl I feel like a real dick if I’m putting weight down. However, I’ve never rolled with a girl who has been even remotely a challenge to me, so maybe my reticence to actually engage could be because of that.
So maybe on the off-chance that a girl ever sticks around at the gym and develops some skill, I’ll be able to roll with her and not feel like a huge prick for putting my weight down on her.
12 May 2009 @ 3:32 pm
Interesting, Isaac. I think barriers and self-consciousness are at play for men and women when we train together, but with regular integration, in my experience, most people get over that. On the one hand, I think that women’s only events and classes are important both for giving women who train regularly at gyms with few or no other women a chance to roll with one another and for bringing women into the dojo before jumping in with the guys; I started martial arts in a women’s only self defence course and that was definitely important for getting me through the door. Over a decade on, and I’m still lovin it! On the other hand, I think that it is healthful and helpful for everyone to have the widest variety of training partners possible, and, to this end, I think that men and women should train together in the normal course of things.
As for being big, well, I’ll tell you, you crush a 60 kilo guy (yes they do exist, I’ve trained with them) just as much as you’d crush a 60 kilo Meg. If you had the opportunity to train with committed female players, I think you’d get over your issues and start to just see them as training partners; if not, is your loss really. I don’t think that your very limited experience of training with women can allow you to make any judgements and I can assure you that there are small, skillful men and women perfectly capable of giving guys your size a hard time 😉
12 May 2009 @ 7:42 pm
I love the opportunity to train with smaller people like myself (also around 60kg) for exactly that reason– I want to observe their game and adopt what works for myself. I do enjoy training with great big people, it’s an excellent workout, but I do find that their techniques rarely translate to workable strategy for me 🙂
12 May 2009 @ 8:57 pm
Great post. My wife came down to the seminar and enjoyed it. She’s not done BJJ before but has to listen to me 24/7 bleat on about it, so it was nice for her to at least share in my obsession.
I walk around at 57kg so I train often with female players. There are some awesomely good women BJJers out there that I have had the pleasure to train with. At my size, I’ll happily train with anyone my weight category, male or female, it makes little difference to me, I always find something to gain from the roll.
Good luck for the next women only session.
13 May 2009 @ 4:32 am
I would absolutely roll with a woman if I thought she’d be able to hold her own with me. I don’t get much out of rolling with people I can absolutely school. Sure it is nice to work on my submission game from time to time but I’d rather work on it against a more skilled opponent. My school doesn’t have any females who are dedicated though, therefore none of them can provide a challenge for me. When you come stateside next, you can swing in my gym and school me some. 🙂
13 May 2009 @ 9:13 am
Hi Georgette. I’m with you. It is great to get an opportunity to work some offence and ‘fancier’ moves with other female players, not to mention compare strategies. Indeed, I found my ‘own gun being used against me’ at the seminar when Dom Vitry, Roger Gracie blue belt, had me stuck in a wicked half guard – a position I can often pass on dudes – I play half guard a lot too and was interesting to be on the receiving end. The ladies’ defence was impressive and folk were very quick to capitalise on any space to go for a reversal. I was impressed with the fluidity and technical approach and it was an afternoon well spent, for sure! Equally, I love training with men of all sizes and feel very satisfied when I can ‘survive’ a roll with peeps with tens of kilos on me; while I might still be stuck on the bottom, I’m not tapping all the time and this is a victory in my book. Is a longer road, I think, for us smaller peeps, but immensely satisfying when we start to stop getting bullied all the time. Keep on truckin’, girl! 😀
13 May 2009 @ 9:35 am
Thanks Meerkat. I absolutely agree that there is something to be learned from any training partner, and I subscribe to the view that one should strive to work with people of greater and lesser skill, greater and lesser weight and so on. Smaller and larger people and, I’m starting to find, men and women (even of equivalent weights) have different games and I think it is beneficial to be exposed to as many different approaches as possible. How did your wife enjoy the seminar; did she get the bug?
13 May 2009 @ 10:00 am
Hey Issac. Like I say, it doesn’t seem to me that you’ve actually had an opportunity to train with a female player. So perhaps you should reserve judgement until you’ve had the opportunity to work with women who train regularly and consistently. Indeed, perhaps you might help that process by being a little more open to training with the women who do show up at your class; perhaps a little more nurturing and active inclusion will persuade more regular attendance and you might well help to create a monster! Just a thought.
I wonder too, if you avoid training with smaller men, if you main goal is to work with people who ‘challenge’ you (which you seem to associate with size)? Indeed, your comments seem to conflate size and skill, and I’m here to tell you that I’m often confronted with white belt guys (from massive to less so) who are good at ‘manhandling’ but little else, and that approach is getting less and less effective with me everyday. I suppose it all depends on your approach to BJJ and mat time, but as I’ve stressed here I think that it is important to be open to training with anyone and see what there is to be learned. Happy training, brother.
13 May 2009 @ 10:46 am
Wifey likes BJJ but is torn between doing that and doing kickboxing. Ill keep working to influence her on the BJJ side of things 😉
But the seminar did have another positive aspect. It persuaded Nick to create a special fee structure that will hopefully encourage more women to take up BJJ. Basically, partners of current members pay half price and kids go free.
I think it is important that a good club should reflect the wider community and encourage men, women,short, tall, ethnic backgrounds etc to take up the sport. If a guy of 69 can make his comp debut (Essex Open), or Kyle Maynard who has no limbs can compete, then it shows BJJ is really suitable for all.
Finally, I train with Dom, she schools me all the time!
13 May 2009 @ 10:56 am
Cool, Meerkat! Well there is always MMA and, of course, BJJ has the advantage of being sparrable without getting head knocked and less likely for nose breaks and eye blackening.
I’m definitely on the same page as you are regarding BJJ is for everyone. It is really exciting to hear that Nick has changed his fee structure; it is these sorts of changes that account for the circumstances of a wider range of folks that can make a huge difference in getting a greater variety of people on the mats! I am very proud of Dartford MMA as Dave has made the juniors classes central (and some of the teens do the gi classes with us) and actively encourages women to train (and compete). Keeps everyone grounded and creates a nice atmosphere where hardman machismo is minimised and is all about good fun, learning and fellowship.
Rolling with Dom was excellent. Very quick and mobile. Patient and, I believe, mentally tough. So excited that there is this conversation going on and I hope we can keep the momentum. Who knows what this could mean for (women’s) BJJ in Britain 😀
13 May 2009 @ 12:36 pm
Sounds like an awesome seminar, and I can sympathise with almost everything you said, as a 64kg guy. Just a shame I’m the wrong gender to make it to one of these. 😉
Carmen’s comment on not developing offence until purple belt was especially interesting. I get the impression that if you’re small, you basically just have to accept that you’re going to be squashed for the first couple of years, so almost completely focused on defence (unless you’re lucky enough to have some fellow small people to train with).
Also fits with Saulo’s belt progression in Jiu Jitsu University, where he puts white and blue under the headings of ‘survival’ and ‘escapes’ respectively. Pretty much leaves details on submissions until the final chapter, which was one of the things I liked about the book.
A special price for partners also sounds awesome: I’m as keen as ever to get my gf into BJJ, and that would definitely help. Hopefully Nick’s policy catches on!
13 May 2009 @ 1:20 pm
Hi Slideyfoot. Yes, I have more and more confidence in the path that I’m on as it seems there is a lot of consensus about how to progress and while Coach has been guiding me along in this manner all along, it is helpful to me to have it articulated to me in many ways as I’m just starting to ‘get it’. I am perfectly willing to play the long game, though it can get tiring being trounced all the time, but is all about the process and I’ve got a lot of respect for my Coach’s approach, which mirrors what you’re describing. Understanding that this is a ‘best practices’ approach helps to ease my ego’s bruising 😉
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